For those looking for some thought-provoking reading, the Maryland Tax Education Foundation has released a study about school funding in Montgomery County and other similar school systems around the country.
Jeffrey C. Hooke and Mihai Sturdza spent six months examining spending trends and what impact those dollars might have on test scores.
Hooke, a Chevy Chase investment banker who is executive director of the foundation, said he decided to take on the project because he had received a number of calls from residents asking him to look into school system funding, which has grown significantly over the past few years. People wanted to know: What were Montgomery County residents getting in exchange for the additional dollars they were pumping into the school system?
Both men discovered what many researchers before them have found -- that it's tough to gather reliable statistics about student achievement. There is no shortage of data on test scores within a school system, but drawing comparisons among several school systems can be difficult because the United States does not administer a single test in all school systems. You want to know how kids in Des Moines, Chicago and Gaithersburg compare? Good luck.
But the two men used what they hoped would be the most comparable measure of student achievement: the SAT.
Here are some of their conclusions:
* When compared with school systems with similar demographics, Montgomery public school students had higher SAT scores at a lower cost per student.
* The school system's average SAT score was flat over an eight-year period. School system officials said scores might show smaller increases in part because a larger pool is taking the exam. While the report's authors note that participation in the SAT nationally has grown 7 percent and that scores increased, statistics from the College Board show that the diversity of the students taking the exam has not changed significantly.
* The number of Montgomery County seniors taking the SAT rose from 76 percent in 1997 to 77 percent in 2005. Meanwhile, the proportion of students taking the test nationally grew from 42 percent to 49 percent.
* When adjusted for cost-of-living differences, Fairfax and Montgomery counties spend about the same amount per student. However, Fairfax students score 13 points higher on the SAT than those in Montgomery. There are, however, demographic differences: While Montgomery has a higher number of poor students, Fairfax has a higher percentage of students who speak English as a second language.
* After adjusting for inflation and enrollment growth, Montgomery spends 30 percent more than it did in 1997. In 2005 dollars, that translates to $330 million per year in extra spending.
* Between 1999 and 2000, spending per student increased by $20 (in county operating expenditures). Between 2002 and 2003, spending increased by $290 per student.
Hooke and Sturdza said there is no agenda behind the report other than offering residents a glimpse at where their school system stands financially and academically.
"I just hope this study strikes some interest in making comparisons" among school systems, Hooke said.
Brian Edwards, spokesman for the Montgomery County public schools, said that while the report is positive overall in finding that Montgomery spends less than comparable systems but has higher test scores, it fails to take into account that much of the increased spending has gone to the primary grades -- investments not reflected in high school SAT scores.
There are lots of other interesting facts in the report, which also looks at systems in suburban New York, California, New Jersey and Connecticut. If you're interested in reading more, you can get a copy of the study by going to the foundation's Web site, www.marylandtaxeducation.org, or by calling its offices at 703-761-4591.
Superintendent Jerry D. Weast has unveiled his recommendations for boundaries for a high school that will open in the Clarksburg area, an elementary campus that will open in the Northeast consortium region and a school known as Northwest elementary No. 7.
The board will hold a series of public meetings on the recommendations beginning Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the system's central office at 850 Hungerford Dr. in Rockville. Additional meetings will be held at 7 p.m. Nov. 9-10. A final decision on the boundaries will be made Nov. 17. They will go into effect in August 2006.
Residents who want to testify should call 301-279-3617. For other information, contact Bruce Crispell, director of the division of long-range planning, at 301-279-3333.